The older you get, the more you should eat your greens — your brain health and intelligence may depend on it.
A new study, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that consumption of lutein — a pigment found in leafy greens — is linked to the preservation of “crystallized intelligence,” which is the ability to use skills and knowledge acquired over a lifetime of experience.
In addition to leafy greens, lutein can be found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and spinach, as well as egg yolks.
“Previous studies have found that a person’s lutein status is linked to cognitive performance across the lifespan,” said University of Illinois graduate student Marta Zamroziewicz, who led the study with Illinois psychology professor Aron Barbey. “Research also shows that lutein accumulates in the gray matter of brain regions known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging.”
Researchers studied 122 healthy volunteers ages 65 to 75, who were asked to answer questions on a crystallized intelligence test. They also collected blood samples to measure the level of lutein, and they used MRI scans to determine the volume of different brain structures.
The researchers found that participants with higher blood levels of lutein generally did better on crystallized intelligence tests. The participants with higher levels of lutein also had thicker gray matter in the parahippocampal cortex region of the brain that is, like crystallized intelligence, associated with healthy aging.
“Our analyses revealed that gray-matter volume of the parahippocampal cortex on the right side of the brain accounts for the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence,” Barbey said. “This offers the first clue as to which brain regions specifically play a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence, and how factors such as diet may contribute to that relationship.”
So load up on those leafy greens and broccoli, and occasionally indulge in some egg yolks — you’ll literally be smarter for it.